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Crossing the Process Model and Tibetan Buddhism
(specifically Dzogchen)

Home > Focusing and ... > Spirituality > Crossing the Process Model and Tibetan Buddhism

by Greg Walkerden

Background paper for the post-TAE conversation


I am imagining this Tuesday afternoon session as starting from a talk with one or two experiential exercises thrown in, and evolving into a conversation as we each explore our sense of crossings between these two traditions.

This outline is meant to give some sense of where I am coming from, so you can get a sense of what might come as we talk ...


1. Having multiple models

Gene remarks in the Process Model and other places that having multiple models sets you free: you can sense in between, beyond, under, through the models more easily as you sense how both (or more) models work for you as ways of explicating your felt experience ...

Consciously using and holding multiple models undermines the temptation to sense a model as being a 'hard take', as being a 'packaging or wrapping up of', as 'capturing the real in words', as 'finishing the process of understanding, rather than opening out, or unfolding, or explicating to, a set of wide open edges'.

In a practice in which holding multiple models is central, a model can certainly be lived as a 'sharp handle', but, in a multiple models thinking practice, explicit models are always felt as a handle: the sense of'gap' viz a viz each model's implicit ground is foregrounded, each model's role as an explication of is foregrounded. You are always noticing "the more", in at least a background way. (We can practice thinking in a multiple models way even if, right now, we have only one model: the heart of it is holding one's sense of the more [edges-with-beyonds] as one thinks.)

One of the core sensibilities of working with multiple models is that we do not try to translate one model into another in a way that tacitly takes one of the models as the (explicit) truth. So I am not trying to outline the two models as if one were primary. One has to sense the sense in which the two models can be felt as pointing to something that can be said through either model (and can, potentially, be said [= explicated] in many other ways).

So we might aspire to seeing how xyz from Model 1 might be said in Model 2 ... but the movement we make is from the explicit statements in Model 1 to heeding one's Direct Referent (felt sense) for the explicit Model 1 language, and then sensing (in a focusing or VIII space way) how this Direct Referent might be explicated (said explicitly) in fresh speech in Model 2 language. Fresh speech minimally because the new Model 2 saying has implicit in it a sense of connection with the Model 1 saying; often the new things we say in Model 2 demonstrably enrich Model 2.

Gene often describes the Process Model as providing an alternative to the "unit" model characteristic of so much of scientific culture ... in the "unit model" 'ultimate reality' is conceived as things-at-space-time-pointswhich interact. Its a metaphor that often shapes our way of feeling into a problem if we are working in many mainstream western traditions. Gene's hope is not that we will throw out the "unit model" in favour of a process model (a model that starts from interacting, and derives things). His hope is that we will consciously use both (and more) as we explicate our experience (as we think, say, act, ...) so that we live consciously from a more fluid, sensitive appreciation of ... of experiencing, aliveness, ...


2. The Process Model points ...

The Process Model has a rich description of kinds of processing, kinds of interacting. One of Gene's major aims has been to build a philosophical model in which focusing, and experiences of meaning generally, are natural, in which they belong. In western thinking we often find ourselves describing the human (meaning, culture, ...) as if it floated above the worlds described in physics, biochemistry, etc. Certainly we have a sense of the human as connected to, grounded, in the world of things-at-space-time-points ... but the sense is very thin, weak: my feeling is that often as we theorise we struggle to make sense of this grounding.

The Process Model provides a much richer sense of how this grounding can be conceived than any other model I have encountered in any intellectual tradition (western or eastern).

In the process of building this account, it provides a philosophical model of how focusing is possible (more clearly: how forming and heeding Direct Referents ispossible). Gene gives an account of heeding Direct Referents in chapter VIII of the Process Model ... so the 'interior space' that we are aware of when we are focusing can be referred to in a shorthand way as "VIII space". The Process Model provides a rich picture of how life in VIII space is a rich resource for living generally (for social life, movement, even body tissue processes, ...).

Gene takes the Process Model as the first of many models built from process (interacting first) that include accounts of VIII space - the special kind of 'environment' in which felt senses form and handles emerge, and so on.


3. 'PM 'VIII space', Dzogchen 'Presence of Awareness': between, under, after, around, and before, ...

My feeling is that Dzogchen and the Process Model can each be understood as alternative models for a kind of experiencing ... that we might understand as pointed to be by Process Model talk of:

  • 'a kind of interior space' (the space we sense as we heed Direct Referents [felt senses]),
  • Direct Referents,
  • heeding Direct Referents, and
  • carrying forward a Direct Referent in conversation, activity, etc.;

and Dzogchen talk of:

  • Vastness, Spaciousness,
  • energy arising,
  • Presence of Awareness, and
  • living in an 'enlightened' way.

So: my feeling is that in Dzogchen we already have a very rich alternative model for something of what the PM points to: a model with its own rich practice tradition, a model from which we can do a lot to enrich and carry forward the Process Model ... and, in crossing, we have also a place from which we can do new things to carry forward Dzogchen - perhaps making some fresh contributions to building a deeply Western Buddhism.


4. Outlines of parts of Dzogchen and the Process Model

In this talk I will give some brief outlines of parts of each model ... not outlines of the two as if telling the truth of each model, but rather: how I read each as I move towards crossing them: these will be readings which have implicit in them my sense of potentials for crossing the models, so they will provide a ground for what follows.


5. Contrasts (and resonances) between the models

Some of the contrasts that occur to me as I cross the models follow. I want to emphasise: these are edges that come for me as I cross: they are not normative.

With my Christian heritage, Dzogchen has, for me, an account that evokes the sadness of the 'biblical fall': we all are originally enlightened, yet we live so often from distraction, from mistaking. The PM by contrast is almost quasi-evolutionary: human experiencing is built towards from the experience of plants, to the experience of animals, to us ... (and in its core it has an account of an alternative starting point for physics).

  • Dzogchen emphasises feeling the quality of spaciousness, vastness ... in focusing / the PM (Direct Reference) the emphasis is much more on the presences that arise in space: bringing them into focus.

  • 'Thinking' is discussed quite differently in each. Dzogchen lacks a contrast between 'thinking from theconcepts without self-conscious direct reference' and 'thinking self-consciously from direct reference', so thinking in an VIII way is discussed in a somewhat equivocal, awkward way. Thinking without explicit direct reference is felt as a shallowing of sensibility, but the tradition lacks a clear model for describing another kind of thinking that is faithful to the sensibility of Vastness. The PM tradition, by contrast, with its roots in Focusing and Gene's Experiencing and the creation of meaning, has avery rich language for talking about thinking from a rich, deep, inclusive, non-model-bound sensibility.

  • The Process Model is richly layered - from tissue process up ... Dzogchen speaks at most of two 'layers': enlightened being and distracted being (that enlightenment "sparkles through"). (To read Dzogchen as speaking of "layers" comes close to meshing rather than crossing: it stretches Dzogchen in the direction of the PM - its important to be conscious of the stretch ... the sense of discomfort in reading Dzogchen like this ...)

  • The Process Model talks of pausing as we act (e.g. as we converse) then, in an act which involves a kind of 'doubling' in our awareness, forming a sense of the whole of the social situation in a new space (the space we feel as we focus).Then we resume social life and in it carry forward from wherever we arrived in VIII style processing.'Enlightenment', by contrast, seems to describe something that in principle could be occurring all the time. Can we carry forward either model from here? I ask: how does a conversation carry forward a felt sensed insight? - in what way is the focusing experience in play as we continue on? - could we explicate 'enlightenment' as some kind of living from (a differently described) VIII space? - perhaps we can explicate Gene's notion of "continuous philosophy" in a new way from here?


6. Carrying forward Tibetan Buddhism and carrying forward the Process Model ...

From this crossing we will explore ways of carrying forward each tradition ... some possibilities are implicit in the contrasts sketched above ...


7. More notes on method and an experiment ...

Exploring crossing the Process Model and Dzogchen I have used two quite different methods.

  • The first is crossing the explicit models - the texts as written as they evoke an implicit sensibility - in a 'thinking at the edge way'.

  • The second is crossing directly from the practices - via felt senses of how the practices are working in me.

The second could be read as a particular application of 'thinking at the edge' skills: making the practice the focus for thinking at the edge rather than theories about the practice. It is an admirably direct way of exploring how two practice centred traditions cross. Crossing from the practices has been my way of moving forward in places where I was feeling stuck as I crossed the explicit models. Crossing from the practices has been the heart of my exploration.

A simple experiment along these lines is the following.

  1. Choose either of the following meditations from Ngakpa Chogyam's 'Journey into Vastness' and practice it for a few minutes ...just long enough to notice the contrast between sitting with Presence of Awareness and drifting away and returning is sufficient ...

    "... if thoughts come - let them come / if thoughts go - let them go / ... keep letting go of your involvement / ... keep letting go / just let be / keep letting be ... don't drift into numbness and lack of Presence / remain alert ..." (p19-20)

    " ... find the Presence of your Awareness in the movement of your breath / if you find that you have wandered off into thought-stories - return to Presence of Awareness in the movement of your breath / ... as soon as you realise that you have lost your Presence - you have regained your Presence, so just continue in that Presence without comment or judgement / ...allow your Awareness to ride on the movement of the breath / allow yourself to Become the breath / avoid drifting into sleepy non-presence / ..." (p78)
  2. As you finish your practice, allow a felt sense of the practice as it worked in you to form ... perhaps particularly of the differences pointed to by the phrase 'Presence of Awareness' ... the difference between being-drifting and being-here, as it were ... and in a focusing way find your own handle for this and/or for any other aspects of this practice that come to you as you sit with its working in you ...

  3. Then try a little focusing, perhaps just clearing a space, perhaps more ... do this for a little while ... enough time to settle into a focusing space and be aware of a felt sense is enough for this exercise ...

  4. Then let a felt sense of how focusing as a practice has been working in you form ... perhaps a felt sense of the 'space' you feel in, or of the kind of attention you pay, or of what 'forward' feels like ... any facets that come to you ...

  5. Then hold both your felt senses with handles 'in awareness', in a focusing space (the PM's VIII space), and allow the two to do anything that comes for you in crossing ... letting words, phrases, images, anything come from their crossing, and staying with what comes in a focusing way ... letting strands of a description, model, theory come ...

From here one can build many new things: carrying forward Buddhism, carrying forward the Process Model, building something entirely new ...

For me one of the joys of this is a certain sense of lightness ... a sense of holding the traditions lightly ... a freeing up from the beliefs as beliefs, the models as models ... a more spacious sense of the felt ground underneath, around, and here ...